The Daytona 500 is the biggest race of any NASCAR season, but the 2013 edition of the Great American Race will be imperative to the future success of many of the sport’s top drivers.
From Dale Earnhardt Jr. to Danica Patrick, many of the biggest names NASCAR has to offer are in need of a stellar showing this Sunday in order to help build toward a more fruitful 2013 campaign.
All of the following drivers need to perform well in the Daytona 500, and a top-10 finish for all would be the ideal way to kick the season off correctly.
Where: Daytona International Speedway, Daytona Beach, Fla.
When: Sunday, Feb. 24 at 1 p.m. ET
Live Stream: FOX Sports Mobile
Danica Patrick already has a head start on the season with her pole win for the Daytona 500—the first by a woman in the history of the sport—but the second-year Sprint Cup Series driver is trying to turn that qualifying success into on-track results.
Not only does Patrick need a solid finish to start the season off right in the standings, she needs to race well all day and stay out of trouble to prove to the doubters that she is just as talented as any of the other drivers on the track.
Patrick finished in 38th place in last year’s Daytona 500, her first career Sprint Cup Series start, but a year of experience came through during her qualifying run. The mainstream star is ready to prove she has what it takes to perform at a high level on the grandest of stages.
There are few drivers on the Sprint Cup Series circuit with as much to prove this year as Carl Edwards and the 99 team.
After coming within one point of a title win in 2011, Edwards followed up the effort with zero wins and a 15th-place finish in the standings. It was arguably the worst year of the veteran driver’s career and one he’d like to avenge immediately.
That starts with a strong showing at the Daytona 500.
Edwards must clear his mind of the lackluster performance from last season and revert back to the driver who was unfathomably close to winning the title in 2011. As heartbreaking as that close championship loss was, there are no more excuses.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
No matter what race it is, the majority of the focus from the media will always fall on the shoulders of fan favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 88 team.
Add in the fact that it’s the Daytona 500—NASCAR’s Super Bowl—and the scrutiny that befalls the veteran driver is comparable to the kind of pressure a star like LeBron James faces in the NBA.
Earnhardt needs a good showing starting in Week 1 to ensure he can focus on the big prize at the end of the season and not all the drama that follows him throughout the course of the year.
Junior has the equipment with Hendrick Motorsports to win this race and the experience on this track, so watching the No. 88 car pull in Victory Lane at Daytona shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone.